In light of International Women's Day 2020, here are 10 women throughout history who changed the face of education across the world.
Aphra Behn (1640–1689)
Aprha was a playwright, poet, translator and Restoration era fiction writer. She is celebrated as one of the first English women to earn a living from her writing. Throughout her life, she argued that women were at a detriment from their lack of education and had the same creative ability as men – these views caused her years of anguish. However, Aphra revolutionised writing, inspiring women to take up their pens and embrace their creativity.
Catherine the Great (1729–1796)
Catherine the Great was the Empress of Russia, at a time where the country was regarded backwards by many of its European neighbours. Catherine fought to change this perception by pushing through ambitious educational reforms for women and men alike, including setting up a boarding school for girls in St. Petersburg and calling for free schools to be set up across the country.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797)
Mary was a writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights, she is regarded as a founding feminist philosopher. She led an ‘unorthodox’ lifestyle, much to the dismay of society. She argued that women were not inferior to men, only deemed so through their inability to access education. She was also a firm believer that both sexes should be treated as equal, with career and education opportunities should be available to all, especially poorer women. She continued to write about education for many years, illustrating a national plan for education for women and fought for co-educated schools. She was a champion for women’s rights to education and liberation.
Lady Ada King (Lovelace) (1815–1852)
Ada was a mathematician and writer, celebrated worldwide as the first computer programmer for her assistance in creating an algorithm that aided the creation of the first computer. She saw computers abilities as far greater than just mathematical calculation devices – and she was right! Ada's work raised the profile of women in STEM subjects, something that is still an active challenge today.
Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847–1929)
Millicent was a celebrated political leader, activist and writer. She is known for her work as a women’s suffragette and was a president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Throughout her life, Millicent focused on improving women’s opportunities for higher education, serving as a governor at Bedford, London (now Royal Holloway) and co-founded Newnham College at the University of Cambridge.
Helena was a businesswoman, philanthropist and cosmetics entrepreneur. As one of the world’s richest women and first self-made millionaires, she used her wealth to support charitable institutions in art, health and education. The Helena Rubinstein Foundation was a lifetime supporter of children’s education programmes in New York City. Helena inspired generations of women to chase their dreams and in turn, start their own businesses.
Olive Gibbs (1918–1995)
Olive was a prolific and well-respected figure in Oxford. She was a prominent politician, Lord Mayor of Oxford, the first female Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council, an Honorary Freeman of Oxford and London and founding member and National Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Olive was passionate about education opportunities for people of all talents and abilities and defended passionately against social injustice.
Dame Jane Morris Goodall (Born 1934)
Jane is an anthropologist and primatologist, an expert in chimpanzees. She is celebrated for her conservation and animal welfare efforts and activism. In 2002, she was named a UN Messenger of Peace. The Jane Goodall Institute works to empower women and girls, providing women with the framework they need to create a positive impact on their communities and environment through health education and academic scholarships. Her conservation work has inspired generations of women to compassionately take up similar scientific careers.
Julia Gillard (Born 1961)
Julia is the first female Prime Minister of Australia. She is celebrated for her campaigns against federal education budget cuts. She sees education as a central part of her economic agenda and champions educational reform, social inclusion, gender equality and a skilled future workforce with access to quality education. She continues to fight for those who lack representation in education.
Malala Yousafzai (1997)
Malala is an activist for female education and human rights and is celebrated for her opposition against the Taliban in Pakistan, demanding that girls be allowed to receive an education. For her activism, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her struggle for the right of all people to receive an education.